Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 8, 2014

Bluestone Technology Park: Dental school, other occupants needed

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The recent expiration of a memorandum of understanding between Tazewell County officials and Bluefield College presents an interesting dilemma as it relates to the future of the still vacant Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park.

The agreement stated that if the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission didn’t award a grant or combination of grants to Bluefield College equal to $10 million or more — excluding a planning grant of $250,000 that was previously awarded — by June 1 for the proposed Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine that the memorandum of understanding would be terminated. The first of June has now passed and the dental school project has yet to be awarded additional grant funds from the tobacco commission. In layman terms, this means the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors are no longer providing funding to the dental school project, according to Northwestern District board member Seth White.

White says Bluefield College can continue to seek funding for the project on its own. And White adds that it is still possible that the tobacco commission will fund the dental school at its September meeting. White says if the board of supervisors opted to fund the project again, a new memorandum of understanding would have to be entered into between the county and the college. The original agreement was between Bluefield College, the Board of Supervisors, the county’s Industrial Development Authority and the Dental College Board of Directors.

There is also a possibility that the tobacco commission may expedite action on Tazewell County’s applications before September, according to Charlie Stacy, chairman of the board of supervisors.

If the funding for the project is ultimately not awarded by the tobacco commission, Bluefield College will pursue other resources, according to college spokesman Chris Shoemaker.

“We have commitments from pledges and other organizations,” Shoemaker says. “We are hopeful that the tobacco commission will award the money, that would be a huge help for the project.”

So are we. It is critical for the dental school project to proceed as planned. If it doesn’t, the burden will once again fall upon Tazewell County officials to find the first occupant for the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park. As it stands now, the industrial park — announced before the onset of the Great Recession — remains vacant. And no one is benefiting from an empty industrial park. Finding tenants for this industrial park  and creating new jobs and tax revenue for Tazewell County is of utmost importance, and a dental school would certainly be a great start.

In the meantime, we wish Bluefield College the best of luck in finding funding for this critical project, and we urge the tobacco commission members to still fund this very worthwhile and important funding application.